Dreaming with His Eyes Open: A Life of Diego Rivera

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9780679430421: Dreaming with His Eyes Open: A Life of Diego Rivera
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This fascinating biography--the first in over forty years--of Diego Rivera, the brilliant Mexican artist and revolutionary (and twice-married husband of Frida Kahlo), captures the explosively passionate nature that made Rivera one of this century's most gifted and controversial painters.

Drawing on his extensive travels and research, Patrick Marnham explores a character who was, in every sense, larger than life. We are introduced to the rural Mexico, full of mystery and turbulence, that shapes the enormously imaginative young Rivera's worldview--and a place that would remain his most enduring creative influence. We see the young apprentice leave Mexico for Spain on a government grant and then go on to Italy, where he first encounters the work of the great fresco painters that will change his life and art forever; to Paris, where he settles in Montparnasse at the epicenter of the legendary artistic circle living there at the time,  including Picasso (both his great friend and his rival), Modigliani, Matisse, Léger and Braque. We see Rivera travel to Moscow to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the October Revolution, and begin his lifelong flirtation with Communism. And by 1930, with his young wife, Frida Kahlo, Rivera finally makes his way to North America, where he is to work on three major mural projects--one of which, commissioned by Abby Aldrich Rockefeller for the new Rockefeller Center, will end in disaster and furious international controversy for the artist, and force his return to Mexico.

Throughout we are witness to Rivera's immense passions--his countless lovers, his stormy relationship with Frida Kahlo, his political bravado, his massive strength and maniacal work ethic--which fueled his highest artistic achievements and made for an extraordinarily complex life. Marnham conveys to us the impact of this galvanic force that was Rivera's creative drive and personality, and shows why he was perhaps the greatest muralist since the Renaissance.

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Review:

What confidence and ambition it requires to approach a biography of Diego Rivera, the larger-than-life Mexican muralist who in recent years has been reduced, in some circles, to being known as Frida Kahlo's evil husband. The myths and mysteries begin at his birth, in 1884. His mother seemed to die just after Diego, a firstborn twin, emerged, and her body was laid out for burial, until an old servant insisted she was still breathing. She recovered fully (Diego's twin died at age 2). This macabre event was but the first in a fabulously eventful life.

Under the brutal regime of the dictator Porfirio Díaz, whose legacy included human slavery on an unprecedented scale, Mexico City became "The Paris of the Americas," with imperial palaces, European music, and decorations by artists who had studied under Ingres. "It was in this exuberant, chaotic, and occasionally dangerous world that Diego Rivera grew up," writes Patrick Marnham, who casts a spell of such strangeness, beauty, and black humor that the reader is utterly hooked by the end of the first few pages. Marnham repeats and analyses all the fables Rivera spun about himself and his family; he describes Rivera's enchantment with Italian fresco cycles and his friendship and rivalry with Picasso in Montmartre in the 1920s; he reports Rivera's countless amorous conquests; and he presents the supposedly feminist view of Rivera as a monster of appetite, arrogance, and authority. Marnham also does an excellent job of picking apart the personal, political, and artistic threads of the disastrous brouhaha over Rivera's Rockefeller Center murals. In prose that is poetically rich and frequently tinged with not-so-gentle irony, he has written a thoroughly believable book about an all but unbelievable life. --Peggy Moorman

About the Author:

Patrick Marnham is the author of several books, including Fantastic Invasion: Dispatches from Africa;  The Man Who Wasn't Maigret: A Portrait of Georges Simenon, which won the Marsh Biography Award and was nominated for a 1994 Edgar Allan Poe Award by the Mystery Writers of America; and So Far from God: A Journey to Central America, which was awarded the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award. He lives in Paris.

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